A free university education isn’t the norm in Australia, unless you are one of our top athletes. An athlete who studies via the Australian Institute of Sport does not have to pay HECS-HELP fees; unlike our doctors, our nurses, our police officers, our teachers, our journalists, our artists, our paramedics; unlike any other career choice in Australia.
The result? A group of over-indulged athletes going on a “rampage” at the 2012 London Olympics. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t really care if they took “sleeping tablets and went to bed at 10.30”. That’s not the issue at hand.
The important issue is why should taxpayers foot the bill for their education?
In an opinion piece for the SMH, Quilty wrote:
“Everyone pays HECS: nurses, paramedics, teachers, artists; we all pay for our education. We also pay tax from prizes won: the Archibald, Brett Whiteley Travelling Art Scholarship, all literary prizes, film prizes, prizes for excellence in education and medical research. Even the Queensland Premiers’ Literary Award was taxed, until it was axed. And I didn’t whinge about being thrown into a higher tax bracket when I won the Whiteley Scholarship as a young artist until I realised that at the same time I was in Paris studying, the young emerging Olympians in Salt Lake City were there for free. In fact the prizes they would receive for winning were also tax-free, and so were their education and training.”
He juxtaposes the recently revealed behaviour of athletes with the quiet heroism of soldiers in Afghanistan. The point is clear – Australian athletes need to grow up.
It’s not someone else’s fault that you didn’t win a medal. Maybe someone was just better than you? Accept it and find some real problems.
It may sound harsh, but it’s reality. The poor sportsmanship demonstrated by a number of Australian athletes at the London Games was disappointing and pathetic (I’m looking at you Emily Seebohm and James Magnussen).
In the real world, namely at a university where you study a course you pay for yourself (or your parents do, or someone pays) or in the workforce, blaming Twitter because you don’t perform as you expected isn’t acceptable. Twitter isn’t an excuse. Yes, it is a distraction, but adults responsible for their own behaviour take control of distractions and manage them. And in every work environment, there are rules: don’t wear thongs to work, don’t access pornography at work, don’t take banned substances. No one is above them, so why do athletes who break them expect a pity party?
I’m not about to jump on the Dawn Fraser bandwagon and say the swimmers who admitted to taking Stilnox should be banned for life (because to be honest, I don’t really care), but I will say they need to start paying for their education, like the rest of us.
The poor sportsmanship and the Stilnox-taking demonstrates a sense of entitlement that we, the Australian public have given our swimmers. While they may be representing Australia, it’s not necessary for us to fully fund their education. It’s time for athletes, not just swimmers, to pay to get to where they are.
Yes, I know they work hard. But are you saying that your doctor doesn’t work hard? Or your teacher? What about you? Do you work hard? Did you pay for your higher education? Yes, I thought so.
As Quilty wrote: “Someone needs to point out to our sporting heroes that the spotlight is harsh but that Afghanistan is harsher. In reality, our sporting heroes live an overly supported, safe and often wealthy existence. It’s time they found a real problem.”
Why is it okay for one select group of people to receive a free education? Winning a medal doesn’t benefit anyone except the winner, and for Emily Seebohm only gold is good enough. A doctor saving a life, police officers protecting the streets, a teacher imparting knowledge to a child: these are the things that benefit our society and yet we make them pay for their education.
Ben Quilty says he won’t stop talking about this inequality, so we had better start discussing it.